Rewind two weeks and you’d have said the upcoming Merseyside derby heavily favoured Liverpool. With Frank Lampard’s Everton side having not won since October of last year, even in their depleted state you’d have backed Jurgen Klopp’s Reds. Beyond simply being favourites, you’d have even said the derby was due to arrive at the right time for Liverpool. A perfect chance to find their winning touch against a team who have won one league game at Anfield since 1999.
But now the opposite is true. Now it looks like there couldn’t be a worse time for Liverpool to have to face Everton. Shorn of Lampard’s well-intentioned, tactically naive management, the Toffees are more hard candy than caramel these days. Sean Dyche has whipped these Everton boys into shape, making them a far tougher nut to crack for Klopp's flimsy Liverpool.
Offering a detailed analysis of Everton after one game would simply be bad data science. But their 1-0 win over league leaders Arsenal last weekend did point to a vast improvement. Perhaps the maelstrom of a managerial change simply woke some slumbering stars enough to outgun the Gunners. But anyone who watched Dyche’s Burnley side will have recognised many hallmarks of that side in the Arsenal upset.
As they welcomed Everton old boy Mikel Arteta and his high-flying team to Goodison Park, the Toffees showed qualities they have lacked for a good while. For a start, they kept their first clean sheet since October’s goalless draw with Fulham. They looked organised, solid and difficult to break down. But they also offered plenty of threat at the other end, keeping Arsenal occupied. This wasn’t a smash-and-grab fluke. Everton did everything necessary to deservedly beat this Arsenal side.
Liverpool on the other hand have rarely been doing what is necessary to continue their recent successes. Last year saw Klopp’s men mount a credible bid for the quadruple, scoring both domestic cups, reaching the Champions League final and pushing Manchester City all the way in the league. As last season drew to a close, it felt like we were in the midst of Liverpool’s glory years. Less than 12 months on, it is clear they were reaching their apex as Liverpool lifted those cups and laid those runner’s up medals around their necks.
The slide that was effectively triggered by their quadruple near-miss has shown no signs of slowing down. Liverpool are without a win in seven games in all competitions. That rotten run has seen them dumped out of the two domestic cups they won last year. The Merseysiders sit tenth in the Premier League table.
Under Lampard, Everton would have been the perfect foil for Liverpool in this sort of slump. Despite their own problems, the Anfield club would have been facing a team in freefall. What’s more, the morale boost of a win in the Merseyside derby could have arrested their own slide. It still might, of course, but it looks a far dicier proposition now. Or should that be Dychier proposition?
Ultimately this one may still revert to the form guide. Nobody would dispute that Klopp has more quality at his disposal than Dyche does. But the same was said a week ago when comparing Everton’s lineup to that of Arsenal. The gruff, flame-haired Englishman has a way of sculpting his teams that makes them greater than the sum of their parts. The progress Dyche made after less than one week in the job was incredible. Facing a Toffees team who have spent an additional week with their new coach might be a step too far for this ailing Liverpool side.
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